Once you know the idea behind your story, it’s time to weave that idea into the plot. And one of the more common methods is to create an outline, either before or after writing a rough draft. Outlines help us see the big picture, see how the individual scenes are themselves part of a larger pattern, and it’s often on that larger scale that the idea emerges as the meaning of the story.
The Question & The Answers
Start with a blank page. On the first line, write out the idea as a question. On the second line, define your protagonist’s goal as it relates to this question.
For example, if the protagonist’s goal is to live forever then the question might be “What is the purpose/meaning of life?” To which the protagonist could answer “To live for as long as possible.” If the protagonist’s goal is to conquer the world then the question could be “How can we (humanity) achieve peace?” To which the protagonist could answer “through force.”
The question represents the underlying issue that the protagonist is trying to resolve. Their goal and methods represent a possible answer. Most stories use different characters to represent various possible answers, and the rewards/penalties of their choices are the author’s way of classifying the different choices as good or bad.
Aladdin asks, “What is the value of a person,” along with the classic “How should I achieve a happy life?” While many characters engage this question, two characters stand out, Jafar and Jasmine.
Jafar is a deceitful wizard, using lies and magical power to pursue the rank of Sultan, a position of wealth and influence. He represents the idea that a person’s value is defined by the power they wield; through magic, wealth, or rank.
Princess Jasmine is an honest and caring person who values people for their inherent nature, and often ignores wealth or social/political rank. She represents the idea that people have an intrinsic value, which is defined by how they treat others, particularly those without power.
Aladdin, the protagonist, represents a middle ground between these two characters. He is willing to lie, and steal, but he is also kind. He covets wealth and influence, but he isn’t blinded by it the way that others are.
At the beginning of the story Aladdin fears he is worthless and dreams of achieving wealth and influence, both as a means to become happy, and become a person of value. Using magic and deceit, he achieves his goal, but finds it hollow. Later he is punished for his misdeeds. In the final conflict of the story he is given a choice, reclaim the wealth and prestige he wants, or sacrifice it for the sake of a friend. He chooses to sacrifice, and is rewarded with a happy ending.
Conflict, Choice, and a Fitting End
A story can end any number of ways. The key is to make sure that the ending fits with the rest of the story. Throughout the story the protagonist has been debating, waffling between choices, now, in a moment of crisis, they must choose once and for all.
At the start of the story Aladdin represents a midpoint between Jafar and Jasmine. He values wealth and power, but also cares about people. All of the major conflicts requires him to choose; between wealth and people, between honesty and lies, between selfish and selfless. At first the choices are small, with small consequences, but gradually they grow, building up to that pivotal moment when the protagonist finally commits to his choice. Consequences are resolved, and the meaning of the story becomes clear.
Setting the Stage